Enemy Confidential: Balanced Packers Offense a Major Concern For Seahawks

Green Bay has underachieved, but a blossoming run game could be the difference against Seattle's struggling defense.

With both teams desperate for a win to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture, the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers will write the latest chapter in their storied rivalry on Thursday Night Football.

Over the past six years, the Seahawks and Packers have played in some of the most memorable games in NFL history, including the controversial “Hail Mary” game back in September 2012 and the historic 2014 NFC Championship Game. Based on their recent history against one another, there’s bound to be some crazy theatrics in this latest installment at CenturyLink Field.

While Seattle has dropped two straight games to fall to 4-5 on the season, Green Bay hasn’t fared much better despite adding several marquee free agents and having a sneaky-good draft in April. Past the midway point of the schedule, the Packers finds themselves currently in third place in the competitive NFC North with a 4-4-1 record and facing an uphill climb to catch the division-leading Bears as well as the surging Vikings.

Coach Mike McCarthy’s offense has been productive, sitting seventh overall in total yardage, but the Packers have surprisingly struggled to put points on the board, ranking 13th overall averaging 24.8 points per game. Playing through a sprained knee, star quarterback Aaron Rodgers has still managed to throw for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, continuing to stand among the league’s elite at the position.

The Packers’ defense has also been solid, as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine boasts a top-five pass defense built around a feisty pass rush and outstanding rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. On the flip side, Pettine can’t be happy that his unit has surrendered 100-plus rushing yards in six of the team’s nine games so far this year and ranks 22nd overall in run defense.

Here’s a closer look at Seattle’s upcoming opponent, including series history, additions/departures, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the talented Packers heading into Week 11:

SERIES HISTORY

--19th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series 11-7. The all-time series between these two teams has been largely decided based on home field advantage, as the Seahawks have gone 3-9 at Lambeau Field and beaten the Packers five out of seven games on their own field. The Packers have won the past three matchups, which were all played in Green Bay, including a 17-9 win at Lambeau in September 2017. The two franchises have met in the postseason three times, with Seattle using a historic comeback to defeat Green Bay 28-22 in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.

WHAT'S NEW?

--ADDITIONS: Normally not known for big spending in free agency, the Packers bucked past trends by upgrading their tight end group by signing veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis. Graham, who played the past three seasons in Seattle, has 439 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his first season with his new team. Green Bay also had one of the finest drafts in April, snagging cornerback Jaire Alexander as their first round selection and further bolstering the secondary by stealing former Iowa standout Josh Jackson in the second round. Additionally, the front office uncovered a couple late round gems at receiver, drafting Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in the fifth and sixth rounds respectively. Valdes-Scantling has already caught 23 passes and scored two touchdowns this season, while St. Brown has started to find his role as a key reserve with nine receptions of his own.

--DEPARTURES: Green Bay jettisoned former Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson in the offseason, choosing to roll with younger options instead. The Packers also traded cornerback Damarious Randall to the Browns back in March to acquire backup quarterback DeShone Kizer. Somewhat surprisingly, the Packers were also sellers to an extent before the trade deadline, shipping former starting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Redskins and dealing running back Ty Montgomery to the Ravens.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

9: Total number of fumbles lost by the Packers this season, tied for second in the league behind only the Jaguars.

5.8: Yards per carry on first down running plays, tied atop league rankings.

6.3: Yards after the catch by Packers receivers, seventh-highest mark in the league.

26.5: Percentage of defensive plays the Packers blitz defensively, ninth-most in the league

31.7: Percentage of opposing pass plays where Packers generate quarterback pressure, ranked sixth among NFL teams.

31: Total sacks as a team through nine games, tied with the Vikings and Chiefs for first in the league.

2.8: Percentage of disrupted dropbacks (producing a sack, interception, or pass defensed) by Jaire Alexander, among the top 10 in the league.

CARROLL'S THOUGHTS

--Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, formerly head coach of the Browns, hasn’t reinvented the wheel with the Packers defense. But while he’s still employing a 3-4 scheme similar to his predecessor Dom Capers, Carroll sees noticeable differences in Pettine’s system.

“There are some different things that they’re doing, a little different style. Because Clay [Matthews] is out there and the way that he’s been playing and Nick Perry, who might be banged up a little bit, those guys have kind of been guys off the edge that have been really featured and they still wind up looking like that, so you see some similarities.” Carroll said on Monday. “They haven’t gone from 3-4 to 4-3 or something like that, but Mike’s got his own style and some different numbers and tendencies and things like that, that we see.”

Not one player has recorded more than five sacks this season, but the Packers have had great success getting to the quarterback and lead the league with 31.0 sacks as a team. Third-year nose tackle Kenny Clark already has 5.0 sacks on his own and has developed into one of the best interior pass rushers in the game. Defensive end Mike Daniels has historically been a menace for the Seahawks and sacked Russell Wilson twice in the Packers 17-9 opening week victory last season.

--Though his 2018 statistics may not reflect it in all areas, such as his 61 percent completion rate, Rodgers remains atop the NFL’s quarterback hierarchy. Playing through a knee injury much of the season, he’s still passed for over 2,700 yards, tossed 17 touchdowns, and thrown only one interception through nine games.

After squaring off with Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, and Jared Goff over the past three weeks, Carroll says playing against a gauntlet of top NFL quarterbacks has been a welcome challenge for Seattle’s youthful secondary that should pay dividends for the unit in the future.

“A lot of our guys have watched Aaron [Rodgers] since they were in grade school and high school and stuff like that so to have a chance to play against him…” Carroll said. “It’s important to them and to see that they can survive it and play well, that’s a tremendous accomplishment that adds to the confidence particularly of the young guys.”

Carroll expects cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers as well as safeties Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill to approach this game like any other contest, but “they’ll also recognize who they’ve been up against when the game’s over and it will be valuable to them.”

--Traditionally, the Packers have been carried by Rodgers and an dangerous passing game, but the emergence of second-year running back Aaron Jones has added a new dimension to Mike McCarthy’s offense. The former UTEP star has rushed for 494 yards on the season, including a career-high 145 yards in a win over the Dolphins last weekend, making Green Bay’s offense far more difficult to game plan for.

“He’s averaging almost seven yards a carry so that’s really a problem that we’re concerned about.” Carroll said while discussing Jones’ emergence. “That balance makes it harder to take your plan to stopping Aaron Rodgers.”

Early in the year, Jones wasn’t getting many carries stuck behind Ty Montgomery and Jamal Williams, but he’s quickly risen up the depth chart to become the Packers most dangerous runner. Even Rodgers himself feels the emerging runner isn’t being utilized enough offensively and facing a Seahawks defense that has given up 309 rushing yards the past two games, he should get plenty of action on Thursday.

"He’s a great player.” Rodgers told reporters on Tuesday. “We just need to continue to give him more opportunities.”

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